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Alumni Spotlight: Sister Jean Marie Cleveland, OSF '59

Sister Jean Marie Cleveland in her office in Oldenburg Hall on the campus of Marian University, where she serves on President Daniel Elsener's cabinet.

Name: Sister Jean Marie Cleveland
Year of Scecina Graduation: 1959 
College/University: Marian College, Purdue University,  Loyola University of Chicago
Degrees: B.S., Mathematics '64; MAT, Mathematics, '71; MPS, Pastoral Studies, '88
Current Position: Vice President for Mission Effectiveness
Current Employer: Marian University 

By Beth Murphy, Director of Marketing Communications

She looks around the Marian University campus and sees so many 18-year-olds, fresh out of high school and just finding their way in the adult world. They seem so young and even immature at times. She can’t believe she was the same age when she made the monumental decision to become a Sister of St. Francis, Oldenburg. 

“I graduated from Scecina in June (1959) and in September I was at Oldenburg,” recalls Sister Jean Marie Cleveland, OSF, who attended Little Flower Catholic Church and Parish while she was growing up. 

She left her family, her home and her Eastside Indy neighborhood to join the order. This was before Vatican II, when religious sisters were more cloistered. 

“I left my home and thought I might never see it again,” she said. 

She’s spent much of her life as a teacher and school administrator. At Marian, which was founded by the Sister of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Sister Jean is vice president for Mission Effectiveness and a liaison between the Sisters and the university. She serves on President Daniel Elsener’s cabinet, works in campus ministry, and coordinates the efforts to promote the Franciscan Sponsorship values – dignity of the individual, peace and justice, reconciliation, and responsible stewardship. 

There’s no doubt the Sisters who taught her at Scecina played a major role in her decision to join the order. 

“During my senior year, I realized I was being called to religious life,” she said. “The only Sisters I knew were Oldenburg Franciscans. They were joyous people who definitely liked working with us. I knew I wanted to make a difference with students like they did.” 

Working for the Father Tom Club and for the Crusader (newspaper) were two important experiences. “Each taught me to work for a goal even when it was hard or I was tired,” she said. 

She cherishes her memories of the Sisters outside the classroom, too. 

“I loved coming home from football games to find the Sisters banging pots and pans to welcome us,” she said. “They could not attend the games but let us know that they were with us in all we did.” 

Marian University celebrates the 80th anniversary of its founding and the legacy of the Sisters at its Courage to Venture Gala on Nov. 10. The Sisters continue to own and sponsor Marian, which is creating an endowment to help retired Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, and to further their legacy through scholarships for low- and middle-income students. 

Although no Sisters work at Scecina now, they remain connected to the school. Sister Barbara Piller is a current member of the Scecina Board of Director. Sister Jean is a past member of the Board and chaired the Mission Effectiveness Committee. 

“Scecina will always be a part of our history,” Sister Jean said. 

As an early Scecina graduate, she knows how important alumni are in giving back to the school. 

“Scecina did much for each of us. I believe we need to give to the present and future students,” she said. “There were no alumni most of my high school life. I don’t know how Scecina was able to do so much for us. I do know that today alumni need to be involved to help build the future.” 

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